In Manteigaria Silva, one of Lisbon’s oldest delis, not much has changed since 1928. Cured hams dangle from the ceiling, port and Madeira wines compete for shelf space and slabs of golden cheese await the blade. And alongside the lombo (air-cured pork) and chouriço (chorizo) lies a sausage so thoroughly Portuguese that a 2011 public vote declared it one of the nation’s seven gastronomic wonders: alheira.
In countries that eat sausages, a high proportion of filler is not generally considered a positive. But in Portugal, alheira, a garlicky affair stodgy with breadcrumbs, is highly prized. And it’s much more than just comfort food. In a time when Jews were being persecuted in Rossio Square, just metres from where Manteigaria Silva’s cream awning extends today, alheira likely saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of souls.
Every dish can tell a million stories, if only there’s someone to hear them. Yet Portugal’s cuisine is more narrative-heavy than most, a complex tapestry of invasions and colonisations that slips and slides between continents and religions.
“Like many dishes in Portugal, the most popular and time-honoured ones have stayed with us over many centuries from the period of Moorish rule – also known as a golden era for Jews in Western Europe,” Paolo Scheffer, an expert on Lisbon’s Jewish history, explained.
From the 8th Century, the sophisticated Muslim culture from North Africa that outsiders called the Moors ruled much of Iberia, including the hilly city known as Al-Ushbuna. A Jewish community had long lived and flourished here, and Jews and Muslims lived in harmony.
by Theodora Sutcliffe